Dr. Charles Stanley passed away on April 18th, 2023. Like many, when I read this I was saddened by the news. News stories often cited his almost 50 years as pastor of First Baptist Church Atlanta and his work with In Touch Ministries. More unscrupulous organizations will be sure to point out that he was divorced or that his son Andy has some less than orthodox views – some will even criticize a father for telling his son that the he was proud of him.
What some of you didn’t know is that Dr. Stanley had a major influence on protestant Christianity and the role that the Southern Baptists have in keeping our faith rooted in the bible as an authority in our lives as Christians.
Looking back, we can see how Dr. Stanley stood as a bulwark against the seemingly unending waves of both personal and faith attacks, with his parliamentary knowledge and wit so sharp that his opponents would sue him seeking federal intervention to stop him – but it almost didn’t happen.
It’s the 1960’s and 70’s, the Baptists were fighting over whether or not the Bible was inerrant in its original languages, if Jesus was the son of God, and whether or not some of the stories in the bible were true/historical – amongst other issues you probably wouldn’t assume that Southern Baptists struggled with.
In March of 1967 Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler met at Café Du Monde in New Orleans, and began formulating what would be known to some as the Fundamentalist Take Over and others as the Conservative Resurgence. Their plan would require secrecy, strict adherence to it, and ten years. If at any point someone deviated from it or it became known, then the whole plan would be thwarted.
In short, because of the way the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) was structured, if the President of the conference were Conservative, they would commit to only nominating other conservatives to the committee on committees (a nomination on the president could do). Those conservatives would then only nominate conservatives to the committee on nominations, who would then only nominate conservative trustees and directors to the SBC agencies and institutions. Because of the way that the SBC staggers its committees, it would take ten years and five presidents serving the maximum two-year term.
Bailey Smith and Jimmy Draper were elected and served their terms following the plan to the letter. And in 1984 Dr. Stanley was approached. He was a conservative pastor with over 10 years of national notoriety, through his In Touch ministries and forward thinking with his embracing of technology.
However, Dr. Stanley declined to run for SBC President.
Holding out for a Hero – Dr. Charles Stanley
Paul Pressler recounted Dr. Stanley’s refusal to run, “‘All of us were crying,’ Pressler said. ‘Then Charles comes in the room and he sits down. And he sits there about five minutes and he said: ‘Men, I’ve got to tell you something. God knocked me flat on the floor in my room this morning before I came over here and told me I had to run for president of the convention… I don’t want to be president. I don’t want to run. I think God is doing this just to humiliate me, because I’m not going to be elected. But if God wants to humiliate me that way, then let him do it.”
“But if God wants to humiliate me in that way, then let him do it.”Dr. Charles Stanley
Dr. Stanley, an expert of the parliamentary procedures that would need to be wielded to continue the Conservative Resurgence, was sure that he wouldn’t be popular enough to sway the people to reelect him and that the plan would fail with him at the helm.
Dr. Stanley was so adept in his maneuvering around the parliamentary red tape, crossing all his T’s and dotting all his I’s that the moderates realized something was up but they realized it too late. Much like those throughout history who are witness to their power evaporating, they began campaigning against the face of the resurgence. They desperately began running smear campaigns, they gathered thousands of signatures of Atlanta citizens and submitted it to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to be published as evidence of how unpopular Dr. Stanley was at home, in hopes of pressuring the more conservative delegates to revoke their support.
But it was to no avail. In response to attacks on his character, his faith, and his beliefs; SBC churches across the nation began threatening to withhold support of the SBC’s Cooperative Program if Dr. Stanley wasn’t elected.
The Cooperative Program is where SBC churches agree to tithe 10% of their received tithes to the SBC in order to support missionaries, programs, and other SBC initiatives.
Charles Stanley was re-elected much to his surprise and the surprise of the moderates with a majority of 55.3% of votes against the moderate contender of 44.7%. His mandate was clear, but that didn’t stop the moderates from trying to stop the resurgence. They rallied support for amendments which would neuter the power of the SBC President or the strategies of the resurgence which would end it. Dr. Stanley was able to invalidate, veto, or strike down each of those measures through an effective mixture of knowledge of SBC bylaws, rules, and parliamentary procedure.
The moderates were quickly running out of options so in a last-ditch effort, they sued the Southern Baptist Convention and it’s president, Charles Stanley in hopes of having the federal government intervene and put an end to then President Stanley’s political maneuvering.
Here’s the summation of the case which I think showcases Dr. Stanley’s adept maneuvering.
“Messenger Slatton moved to “amend” the Committee on Committees’ slate of nominations by substituting a new slate of candidates. Chairman Stanley ruled that Messenger Slatton could not offer an entire slate of candidates at once and that he would have to move to amend the Committee’s nominations one by one by referring to specific individuals. When he realized that this ruling would greatly impair his ability to present the reasons supporting the substitution of a new slate of candidates, Messenger Slatton appealed the chair’s ruling to the floor of the convention. Chairman Stanley ruled that Messenger Slatton’s motion was out of order because SBC bylaw sixteen states that members to the Committee on Boards ‘shall be nominated to the Convention by the Committee on Committees.’”The United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.
The court ruled in favor of the SBC and President Stanley agreeing that no wrong was done and citing the first amendment and the precedent of the Separation of Church and State. Beaten, but ever vigilant, the moderates continued to try and introduce new amendments to change the way nominations were done, but they failed.
Those not affirming the authority and inerrancy of the bible (in its original languages) and other basic points of Christian theology found in the Apostle and Nicene Creed were given ultimatums at the Seminaries. The three main bastions of liberal theology in SBC seminaries, Southeastern, Midwestern, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary replaced over 90% of their faculties, with Southern being the highest at 94%.
If you attend a Baptist church, or have a pastor who attended a Baptist seminary, or have enjoyed the teaching of theologically conservative pastors in recent history, chances are they have been influenced in some way by the Conservative Resurgence.
I believe that Dr. Charles Stanley was chosen by God, for such a time as this. His nomination happened at a critical moment in the plans of the Conservative Resurgence, and in Christiandom. He faced the backlash of an ideology that had entrenched itself in power and awoke to having that power siphoned away. With the amount of scrutiny and lengths that the moderates in the SBC would go to stop him, if Dr. Stanley had made a mistake, abused his power, or done anything to disqualify himself it would have been found he would have been removed.
I never met Dr. Stanley. My mom went to First Baptist Atlanta as a single and my parents went there occasionally throughout the years. But his courage, conviction, and willingness to be humiliated for God by choosing obedience to what he thought was best had a profound effect on my life and changed the outcome of it for the good, and until 2015, I had no idea the impact he had on my life.
If you’re interested in reading my research paper where I look at the resurgence, provide additional information about Dr. Stanley, and other issues that Baptists had including my predictions about the upcoming Calvinist Takeover feel free to read it here: Final Research Paper
If you’re interested in short slide show about Dr. Stanley including some older pictures and a time line of his ministry, he was my person of interest in my Baptist Heritage class, and that Power Point can be found here: presentation CS